Blogging Pachelbel #5 — Royal Philharmonic

Well, now we come to the commercial recordings. Everything that comes before seems to me to be a serious effort to convey the content of a piece of Classical (upper-case C) music. This recording is quite clearly a commercial rather than an artistic endeaver.

Notably, this recording lacks both artistic integrity and musical quality.

Surprisingly, this very version, at 2:45, is available on a number of recordings. The surprise comes to me not because of the execrable content, but because of the fact that it’s not even a complete recording — it just fades out without completing starting about 2:30.

Then there’s the actual content. Sigh. It’s an arrangement, and there’s nothing wrong with that, per se — I’m an arranger myself, and consider it a high calling. A good arranger is worth her weight in gold (as so many Hollywood and Broadway composers will attest).

No, this is an arrangement where a reason for its existence I can’t even conceive. Imagine, if you will, a 6-year-old not-very-gifted pianist. Imagine this youngster hears Pachelbel’s Canon once (in any version, original or not). Imagine again that this youngster spends 6 minutes at the piano noodling around in order to try to recapture what was heard.

Then imagine that someone orchestrates the results verbatim and puts it in front of the Royal Philharmonic.

The result would likely be superior to what is presented here in this recording.

The arrangement starts out promisingly — we begin immediately with the first full statement of the first couplet of the canon theme given to an oboe. It’s lovely — who doesn’t like a well-played oboe melody? — and certainly a completely justifiable arrangement.

But things go awry pretty quickly — instead of getting a second oboe at the 3rd measure, playing the canon theme the first oboe had just played, while the 1st oboe continues the canon, we get THE VERY SAME THING, REPEATED.

OK, it was lovely the first time — why shouldn’t we hear it a second?

Then comes the third couplet, and we get a flute, and YES! it’s playing the initial canon theme, while the oboe plays a third lower.

Alas, our joy is quickly extinguished when we realize that the original 4th-oriented bass has been abandoned in favor of a step-wise bass line. While it’s certainly possible to create a lovely texture with such a bass line, it’s completely IMPOSSIBLE to do so if you use as one of the voices above it the SECOND COUPLET OF THE CANON, which is, of course, simply an octave above this new step-wise bass line.

Allow me a moment to shudder.

While we can certainly forgive our 6-year-old pianist a string of parallel octaves (who notices parallel octaves on piano, anyway, eh?), any professional producing an arrangement for a professional orchestra certainly knows better.

That said, we are hopeful, and anticipate that the introduction of new couplets from the original canon or the return to the real bass line will eliminate the egregious problem.

But no! Our 6-year-old orchestrator values consistency over beauty, and, instead of moving on to something different, repeats the egregious parallel octaves once again.

At this point, is there any reason to go on? No. Of course not. The parallel octaves receed into the background as different voicings are used and different snippets are borrowed from the canon, but only on the 8th couplet do we get a return to Pachelbel’s actual bass line, along with a nice introduction of the full string section, playing the third couplet of the canon (m. 7 of the original). Well, that’s settling in nicely after a false start, so maybe things will work out after all!

But no, instead, the previous couplet simply repeats in the strings (instead of going on), and the couplet from m. 19 of the original is introduced in THE TRUMPETS.

I can’t go on, even though there’s only 8 or 10 measures left in the truncated version with the fade-out that someone somewhere along the line seems to have concluded is all anybody needs to hear of “Pachelbel’s Canon” (and I DO emphasize the quotation marks there).

I don’t understand why anyone associated with this recording would not want to kill themselves. I cannot comprehend how any professional arranger could commit such a far-less-than-amateur arrangement to paper. I cannot conceive of the justification for putting it on the music desks of a professional orchestra. I can’t comprehend how the conductor of such an orchestra, even if a ringer brought in for the recording session, could accept a paycheck for conducting a recording of such absolute crap. I can only imagine how spirit-crushing it must have been for the members of the orchestra to have to hack through such obvious bullshit.

In short, I guess I don’t understand the professional music world.

I guess that what I do understand is that you can’t kill crap once it’s committed to tape — the record companies will re-issue it endlessly, complete or not, and unsuspecting lovers of music will end up hearing such dreck and never know how beautiful music really could be if it weren’t for spineless hacks and soul-less record company executives.

One thing about this post worries me greatly, and that’s that my description of it sounds so bad that it will prompt people to spend the $.99 to buy the MP3. PLEASE DON’T. It’s bad, and an epic fail. But rewarding the folks who produced this dreck with purchases of the MP3 seems to me to be counterproductive.